Going out on your own as a freelancer is an exciting decision. You could taste it all when you determined to try the freelance life — the freedom, the potential, the income, and the profitability possibilities!
Reality tends to knock us down a notch or two. The bills keep coming in. The clients come and go. Finding new clients is a lot of work. And there’s imposter syndrome waking up with you every morning to remind you that you’ve never done this before.
If you don’t try, you can’t succeed. If you don’t fail, you haven’t been trying.
So let us be the first to tell you today: you’re doing great! You might have challenges and you may even feel like you’re on the verge of failing some days… but the truth is that you are doing it exactly right. Because — you’re doing it!
Those who engage can succeed. Those who don’t try will never even know what was possible.
Expecting Freelancing Challenges
But what about those challenges that freelance graphic designers experience? They are your friends! Really.
The challenge of learning new things and better ways shows you’re already well underway. Your goal is to be the successful and profitable freelance designer you’ve seen others in our industry become. (And in today’s media-intense, visually-oriented marketplace, there are lots of great clients to go around. The path you’ve picked is a smart one.)
We’ve been where you are. We started out alone. A solopreneur. Not knowing much. Learning lots. Failing sometimes, but moving forward constantly. And, today, we have a thriving design studio in Austin, plus a growing community of creatives learning the tricks to successful freelancing at Aventive Academy!
Today, we want to highlight one of the biggest lessons we learned when our studio was small, and we were still learning how to get graphic design clients and pay the bills. This freelancing secret changed everything for us, and we want to let you know how to implement it for yourself.
We’re talking about niching down. To succeed as a freelance graphic designer, brand designer, or web designer, you need to learn how to niche down.
If you focus on niching down, you’ll be able to:
- Attract better clients
- Work with the clients you like
- Charge higher rates
- Always be busy
- Thrive in your graphic design niche as an expert
- Grow your freelancing the way you want to
- Be a profitable freelance designer!
If you’re wondering what we mean by “niche,” let’s define it clearly. Having a niche as a freelance designer means that you focus your marketing and front-facing activities towards a specific sub-set of the market. You don’t sell to everyone, you sell to a niche group.
You might niche in one of the following ways:
- “We sell graphic design services to real estate agents and property managers.”
- “We design and develop websites for florists.”
- “We sell branding packages to technology companies.”
- “We sell marketing design packages to e-commerce retailers.”
It’s critical to have an orderly and predictable set of services you offer and to price them for revenue (sales and profit) success. Just as you need to learn how to niche down to focus on your ideal client market, you also need to use that design niche to determine exactly what you’re selling.
If you’re having trouble knowing what you should sell, how to package multiple services, or what to charge your clients, we walk you step-by step-through what $12k freelance design clients really want in our free $12k Client Attraction Masterclass!
Why Choose a Graphic Design Niche?
Great question! Lots of freelancers think, “Hey, why should I limit the type of clients I try to attract? I’m having a hard enough time filling my schedule now. If I niche down, I’ll be limiting myself and ignoring client possibilities.”
Niching down is one of those business principles that seems to defy logic. It’s a paradox. But it’s also critical to understand. You know that you can’t please all the people all the time and it’s the same with attracting clients. You need to know who you’re trying to attract and target them. And there are logical reasons why this is true, if you think about it:
- Your prospective clients are experts in their field — they want to deal with experts who understand their type of business. If you specialize in their industry, they’re going to choose to work with you.
- If you focus on one industry sub-set, you really will get to understand the nuances of that industry’s needs. You will become the designer expert in that field. This is the principle of focus for mastery.
- Your name will spread more quickly, word-of-mouth, through a single industry than it will through the wide-open business community. You’ll get referrals simply because those birds of a feather that are flocking together will be talking about you whenever someone they know needs a designer!
- When a prospective client lands on your website, they’ll naturally feel “at home” and will see how you particularly understand their business environment. You’ll be head-and-shoulders above your competitors, in terms of first impressions and expertise.
“Less is more” is a paradox in business and other areas of life. It’s true in marketing your services, too. You need to niche your design business, focus on a core group, and your less will become more profitable and enjoyable!
Once you niche down, you will need to update your portfolio to attract those new clients. We have a free workshop to help you uplevel your design portfolio and attract $12k clients — you can join us here!
Are There Drawbacks to Niching Down?
Every decision you make in your freelance business will come with pros and cons. Let’s look at some of the problems you might encounter when you specialize in your design business:
- You might get bored in one industry.
- You might not like the industry as much as you thought you would.
- You might make a mistake in the design niches you choose.
- You might not find clients who can pay you in that niche.
- Your niche might disappear (because of market changes), or it might be saturated with designers already.
- You might overshoot and aim too high (for example, if you want to niche down to celebrity clients only, you might be biting off too big of a challenge).
Let’s summarize these possible downsides by saying that the downsides of not niching down far outweigh the chance that something will go wrong. In other words, if you don’t niche down, you can’t take advantage of all of its powerful benefits. So, not niching down will hurt you way more than the problems you might experience by choosing a design niche.
Position Yourself for Six Figure Freelance Income
When you select an appropriate niche to focus on, you increase your ability to quickly hit those freelancing $10K+ monthly revenues you’ve seen other designers get to. Let’s look at how you make sure that you’re choosing a niche that can pay you and create profitability for your freelancing.
- Think about your past clients. Who did you enjoy working with? Which of those clients could pay you (and paid quickly)? Which of these clients work in an industry with lots of other businesses needing your design services and having budgets to pay for them?
- Narrow down the list to a couple of industries (maximum three). Now ask yourself, “Do I like these industries?” Not just your past clients, but the industry itself.
- Take a closer look at the industry. Do a bit of market research. Pretend you are a business in these industries. Google designers. What do you find in your area? Don’t be afraid of competition, as some industries with higher design budgets have lots of freelancers… but also make sure that the market isn’t saturated. (If designers’ prices are really low, you know the market is over-crowded).
- Is the industry growing or declining? Focus on growth.
- Choose one industry — this is your new niche!
Go a Little Farther and Identify Your Target Client
While you’re thinking about your new niche industry, think about your past clients again. Or think about what you learned about this industry in your online research.
Who are the decision makers who buy your type of design services for the organizations in your new niche industry? Are they small businesses, with an owner/operator making decisions? Or are they mega-corporations with marketing and advertising departments?
Once you have an idea of who the target client (decision maker) is, you can begin to create a persona for them:
- How old are they?
- Where do they live?
- What do they drive?
- Where do they hang out online?
- What do they love to do or see?
- How much money to they have for your services (what’s their design budget)?
The toughest question is the last one. If you are unsure about client budgets (and, maybe, about how to price your services appropriately for your new niche market), then learning about the different design pricing models will help you.
Hourly, project, package, and value-based pricing are the common models. We have easy-to-follow explanations for how to implement each option, including our recommendations on how to set your rates so you can hit $10k months and beyond, in our 12-week Profitable Designer Program.
How To Transition Your Freelance Business Towards Your New Niche
Once you know what niche you’re going to focus on, you’ll need to think about some changes you’ll make to your day-to-day freelancing activities.
First, continue to research your new niche. Try to get to know more people in this industry. Who can you reach out to, to ask questions? Where can you hang-out and rub shoulders? What networking opportunities are there, online or in-person?
Take advantage of what you find and engage. Participate. Be curious. Learn something new (or meet someone new) every day! (Remember to describe your freelance services as focusing on your niche industry whenever you are talking to others.)
Make a list of your online presence. This is your marketing (and advertising) focus, likely. It includes your website, your portfolio, your social media feeds, and your online profiles.
How can you customize each of these important resources to focus on your new niche? Put yourself in the shoes of your target client and start tailoring your online persona to be relevant and appealing to the target client you have identified.
You might need to work on your portfolio pieces. Make sure they are relevant to your niche industry. If you are unsure how to present your portfolio on your website, check out our free online workshop: 3 Steps to Uplevel Your Design Portfolio to Land $12K Clients.
Niching down doesn’t mean that you turn prospective clients away. It means you are in control of who you work with and what types of clients you work for.
If someone in an industry unrelated to your niche contacts you, you can decide. They may have heard you were an expert in their friend’s industry and assumed (correctly!) that you’ll produce wonderful results in their market, too.
You can decide… do you have time and creativity for their area, or do you want to refer them to someone who you’ve seen is focused on their industry and doing great work? (This is a great way to rub shoulders in a cooperative way with your area’s key freelancers, building strong and reciprocal relationships.)
When you niche down, you’ll be able to improve your profitability and bring a welcome level of control to the chaos of running your own business. Niching down puts you in the driver’s seat. You’ll be working in an industry you have a passion for, and you’ll be growing your business’s reputation as the go-to expert to hire.
If all of this is a bit overwhelming, it’s because finding a niche is a critically important step for the growth of your freelance business. And it’s a bit of a counter-intuitive process, so it takes a measure of that entrepreneurial courage that running your own business demands.
If you want to slow down what you’ve read here and go step-by-step, we’d love to show you the way. Our Profitable Designer Program has everything you need to set up your freelance business, attract $12k clients, and get to six figures.
We’d love to share the details with you, as you join the community of growing and profitable designers we’re proud to say are our friends! Join us today and let’s help you make more money in your graphic, web, or brand design business.